Ways of learning – 5 ways you can develop your skills today

There could be many reasons why you may be thinking about learning something new. Perhaps you want to change careers, keep your skills up to date or maybe you just want to learn for fun. Whatever your reasons, the next step is to identify how best to achieve your goals…

Would you prefer to study part-time, at a distance or full-time in a classroom environment? Whatever your preference, there’s sure to be something that suits your needs. And with an ever increasing range of free resources out there – cost doesn’t need to be a barrier to learning.

Here are some of the different ways that you can start learning something new.

Learning doesn’t have to cost anything

Find a free course online

Free online resources are great for those who may be short on time, money or both because you can use them at your leisure, and they won’t cost you a penny!

No matter what age you are, the internet has plenty to offer and continues to evolve and develop all the time – so even if you decide to pay to take a more in-depth course, it’s still worth using free online resources to supplement your learning. No matter what you want to learn, the internet is your oyster!

If you’re looking for somewhere to start, then it’s worth having a look at some of these free online education sites…


Alison.com has short online courses on everything from IT, to Humanities, to Lifestyle. It also gives you the option to find online courses related to specific jobs and careers. Alison’s mission is to empower people everywhere by giving them free access to learning. It will also give users free certification in some areas, although in some instances there may be a fee.


If you’re interested in learning a new language, then Duolingo can offer a lighthearted educational experience either on the web or via the free app. The great thing about Duolingo is that you can easily tap into it anytime (such as while waiting for a bus) and its interactive quizzes can help you to enjoy a relaxed learning experience.

While you can use Duolingo completely free, there’s also the option to sign up to a premium subscription if you want to have an ad-free experience and access content while offline.

If you’re interested in learning a language, then you may find it useful to read our article on the benefits of learning a new language, which includes additional tips on how to get started.

Future Learn

Future Learn is a great option for those that want to learn for fun and are not worried about achieving certification – as this comes at a cost. They offer a variety of short courses from leading universities and cultural institutions around the world.

Most of Future Learn’s courses are free, however you’ll need to pay if you require extras like certificates, unlimited access to course information, and course tests.

Open Learn

Open Learn is powered by the Open University and gives free access to courses across a range of subjects including history, science, and sports.

Courses range from introductory to advanced level and can be used either for fun or to help you top up your knowledge and skills related to your career. If you’re considering taking a degree but you’re unsure, then Open Learn can be a great way to find out more about a subject area and decide whether it’s right for you.

Access free learning resources at your local library

If you’re thinking about learning something new, then it’s definitely worth signing up to your local library. It’s completely free to join and you’ll gain access to a number of free resources including books, magazines, journals, and ebooks.

Whether you’re looking to read up on a new topic in your spare time, learn a new language or support your learning whilst on a course or at work, the library is a great hub for all your learning needs. It’s also a great place to sit quietly and study if you need one!

Distance learning courses

courses, training and learning

Distance learning courses are ideal for anyone who wants to learn at their own pace and in their own time. They’re simply courses that are delivered remotely, so there’s no need to be physically present in a classroom – which means you can fit it around your other responsibilities. If you’re looking for a learning opportunity that offers you full flexibility then this could be for you.

Distance learning courses are provided by an online course provider or a university, college or other institution and are usually conducted entirely online. For example, you sign up online, complete the course online and take your tests online.

Some courses give you the option of having an online or remote tutor and/or peer support too, so there’s no need to struggle on your own if you find yourself needing help.

Whether you want to take a certificate or diploma or degree course – or something else entirely, chances are there will be a distance learning option available. If you’re looking for somewhere to start, then why not browse our list of courses on site?

Classroom-based learning at your local college or adult education centre

Most people who take a classroom-based course at their local college or adult education centre do so because it offers practical experience which is beneficial for entry or progression within a specific job role, or because they prefer to learn in an environment where they can get direct support from a tutor and peers. Sometimes it’s also the only way that you get the certification needed to enter into a specific job or career.

Colleges and adult education centres won’t all offer the same courses, so it’s always worth checking with your local ones to find out what they have to offer. This can also be said for the course duration, entry requirements and cost, so it’s best to confirm these with each individual institution before committing to anything.

At the moment, many education centres have moved their classes online, so it’s best to have this in mind, and to check the details of your centre before signing up for a course.

If you already know what type of course you’d like to study, then you can also try contacting your local council, as they should be able to give you more information about courses available in your local area.

University degree courses

A degree course is a much larger commitment than the majority of the courses listed above, but if you have the time and money it can be a highly rewarding experience. Some people take degrees for fun, but the majority of people do it because they hope that it will help them lay the foundations for a career in a specific field or industry.

If you’re unsure whether or not a degree is the right option for you, then it can help to get in touch with your local university and ask to speak to someone who runs the course that you’re interested in taking. They may be able to give you more insight into what it involves and what it could lead to.

It may also be worth taking a free course in your chosen subject matter first – that way if you realise you’re not so interested in it after all, then you haven’t lost a significant amount of time or money.

The entry requirements for each degree course will differ depending on the course and university you decide to apply to, so it’s best to check these before you submit your application. Universities also run open days where you can go and have a look around and hear more about what certain courses entail, so it’s worth going to one of these if you can.

Many people worry about the time and cost associated with degree courses, but if you’re really keen to start a degree in later life then there’s financial help available in the form of bursaries and loans, as well as options to study part-time alongside other work commitments.

There’s also an option to study some degrees at a distance – The Open University offers distance-learning degrees, as do some other universities.

One of our members recently completed her undergraduate degree in Criminology and has now moved on to do a Master’s. You can read Christine’s story here.

And finally…

No matter what you want to focus on, always keep in mind that it’s never too late to try something new. There are plenty of benefits associated with learning a skill later in life, including improved brain function, opening doors to new opportunities and increased confidence.

Sometimes going back to school or committing yourself to learning something new can be scary because it forces us to step outside of our comfort zone – but that’s where we can really grow and flourish as individuals.

Are you thinking about learning something new? Is there any additional advice or learning resources that you would like to share with other members? Join the discussion on the community forum here, or leave a comment below. Often the most helpful advice comes from other members in similar circumstances.

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